Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fisheating Creek

Winding, sometimes obscurely, through the cypress swamps and vast floodplains northwest of Lake Okeechobee, Fisheating Creek is still considered a wild waterway. My friend, Sue, and I spent several days in December exploring all parts of the creek we could access. This was particularly challenging because the water level was VERY low (as evidenced here by the water line on the trees - click here). This meant we had to walk most of one 7 mile stretch, pulling our kayaks in shallows and over sand and roots (click).

On this section between Burnt Bridge and Palmdale, we came to deep pools from time to time, where all the alligators (usually strung out in the meandering swamp) were forced to congregate. It was a bit unnerving to come around a bend in ankle deep water to find 15 or more gators staring at you from the banks and the pool ahead. ( here). By 'deep', I mean maybe a foot or two... just deep enough for the gators to disappear into the tea-colored waters (which they all did within moments of seeing us). So crossing these pools in our boats felt like crossing a field of landmines - you never knew when a spooked gator might erupt as we crossed over him. We came across one nest of youngsters being babysat by a teenager. A few of the babies were fearless, even curious and swam over to my boat to investigate. (Here they are: click, click, click.)

Birds were abundant, too... like the black vultures... waiting for the carcus of a wayward paddler? (click). And the flycatchers resting on the cypress knees between forays over the water (click). And the black-crowned night heron eyeing me with one of his striking red eyes (click).

When we launched on the last section of the creek, from Hwy 78 to Lake Okeechobee (where the creek finally ends in the 'Big Water'), the sky was heavy with rainclouds. This section has been canalized, so it looked boringly straight and disturbed, but the lure of actually paddling into Florida's big lake was irresistable. I was pleased to see many wading birds, including the limpkin (now rare up in my Tallahassee neck of the woods). Even better, the limpkin didn't pay me much attention as s/he foraged along a beach. We took a small natural-looking side channel as we arrived at the lake, but soon ran out of water. No problem. We walked across the flats toward a small bay where numerous ducks dabbled. Suddenly a small flock of American White Pelicans flushed up from behind some grasses right in front of us. I had my camera ready and was pleased to get a good shot of them despite the low light with a handheld telephoto lens, and the suddenness of the moment (click here.) Where we were on the lake, there were numerous islands and peninsulae, so it wasn't like looking out at an ocean from a beach, but rather a beautiful scene of bay, cove, and strand... a waiting adventure for another visit.

In the end, there should be a sunset. In our case, there was rain... but here's the sunset from the beginning of our adventure, the upper Creek near the Hwy 731 bridge. (click) We arrived after a long drive just before sundown... it turned out to be our only sunny day.